3 Instant Reactions After LeBron James, Lakers Agree to $97.1M Contract Extension

Adam WellsAugust 17, 2022

Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers are breathing a sigh of relief after LeBron James agreed to a contract extension Wednesday.

Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski that James will sign a two-year, $97.1 million extension with a player option for 2024-25.

James became eligible for a two-year deal with the Lakers on Aug. 4.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reported Aug. 9 that James, Paul, Lakers head coach Darvin Ham and general manager Rob Pelinka had an hourlong meeting to discuss "concerns, and hearing out strategies and opinions to assure there wouldn't be a repeat of last season's epic failure" in Los Angeles.

Whatever came out of that meeting seemed to resonate with James enough to get him to re-sign.

Here are some instant takes about James deciding to stay in Los Angeles.

LeBron Was Never Leaving Los Angeles

Of course, this was the end result for James and the Lakers. There were some questions from outsiders that the four-time NBA MVP might look to find a new franchise after things went so awry last season.

Back in April, Yossi Gozlan of HoopsHype laid out some valid reasons James wouldn't necessarily agree to an extension with the Lakers when he became eligible to do so:

"My guess is he does not extend with the Lakers for a couple of reasons. One, he can sign it up until June 30, 2023. Two, he might want to keep the pressure on the Lakers organization after the season they just had. Three, he's LeBron James. As long as he's playing at this level next year, a max contract will be available to him."

While that is a rational take, it fails to account for the fact that there was nothing rational about James' original decision to sign with the Lakers.

Let's rewind the clocks to July 2018, after James opted out of his contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers to become an unrestricted free agent. The future Hall of Famer signed a four-year, $154 million deal with the Lakers.

At the time, Los Angeles was coming off five consecutive losing seasons. The franchise didn't have a budding young superstar at that point, like the Cleveland Cavaliers did with Kyrie Irving when James returned to the franchise in the summer of 2014.

Brandon Ingram was a promising 20-year-old at the time. Lonzo Ball was still searching for a consistent jumper in the NBA. Kyle Kuzma was an effective scorer but didn't look like an impact player.

(Ingram and Ball were traded to the New Orleans Pelicans after the 2018-19 season as part of the Anthony Davis deal. Kuzma was traded to the Washington Wizards in August 2021 as part of the package for Russell Westbrook.)

There was no basketball reason for James to join the Lakers when he did. He was entering the twilight era of his playing career, and he has been making a series of business moves in Los Angeles.

James got his first starring role in a movie last year with the release of Space Jam: A New Legacy. He sold a minority stake in his production company, SpringHill Company, last year to bring its valuation to $725 million.

Los Angeles seems to be where James wants to be for his business ventures and family. (Bronny James is entering his senior year at Sierra Canyon High School.) The Lakers just happened to benefit by being the historic franchise that plays basketball in the city to entice James to sign with them.

James' New Deal Doesn't Mean a Westbrook Trade Is Imminent

Even before Lakers fans had to worry about James' contract status, they were paying attention to Westbrook's status as a member of the franchise.

There has certainly been a lot of speculation that a Westbrook-for-Irving trade could be in play. Sam Amico of Hoops Wire poured cold water on that in June with a report that the Brooklyn Nets have "no interest in Westbrook at all" even if he happened to get bought out by the Lakers.

Haynes noted the meeting between James and Lakers brass did lead to Ham laying out his vision for what the team needs to do to be competitive in the upcoming season:

"He voiced that defensive tenacity needs to be picked up all across the roster and also forewarned that players would have to play new roles and if he sensed reluctance, he wouldn't hesitate to remove them from the game, sources said."

Haynes noted the Lakers are "hopeful" Westbrook can improve his corner three-point shooting in 2022-23. He also added that Pelinka stressed "patience" will be key for any potential trades they might make.

Per Cleaning the Glass (h/t CBS Sports' Brad Botkin), Westbrook actually made 44 percent of his corner threes in 2021-22 and 41 percent in his lone season with the Wizards.

If the Lakers are hoping for Westbrook to improve one aspect of his performance, it seems to be an indication they are anticipating entering this season with him on the roster.

This Is a Bet on Anthony Davis

In order for the Lakers to reach their ultimate ceiling, they need James and Davis to be the players they were during the 2019-20 season.

That's certainly a high bar to clear because the Lakers won the NBA title in the first season with James and Davis playing together. Their roster was much better at that time, with Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso playing valuable minutes.

Davis' performance in the bubble during the Lakers' playoff run is unlikely to be replicated. He shot 38.3 percent from behind the arc in 21 postseason games. The 29-year-old has only made 28.6 percent of his three-point attempts in three seasons with Los Angeles.

The main problem for Davis over the past two seasons has been availability. He's only appeared in 76 out of a possible 154 regular-season games since the start of the 2020-21 campaign.

Durability has been an issue for Davis throughout his career. The eight-time All-Star has only reached the 70-game mark in the regular season twice in 10 years.

According to Haynes, Ham said during the meeting he intends to "implement and stick with" the offense running through Davis, and James "concurred" with his coach.

It's a dangerous proposition because of how unreliable Davis' availability has been, but any serious injury he might suffer would derail their hopes for the 2022-23 season anyway.

The Lakers are 30-19 in the past two seasons with Davis and James in the lineup together. Their record drops to 45-60 during that span when at least one of them doesn't play.


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